Why do elected officials preside over what voters don't care about?

A lot of our democratic process involves our elected officials voting and presiding over things that voters are not going to change their vote over. Oh, they are important things, and the voters actually do care about them, but they are not going to change many votes.

That's especially true now. In deciding whether to re-elect your congresscritter, is how they voted on say FCC spectrum policy going to make a difference to you, compared to their stance on bigger issues like the war and the economy? Even when spectrum policy matters a lot to you?

The result of this is that there is no accountability on these committees, and little downside to selling your vote to somebody who does matter -- a big contributor who can give you the money you think you need to win votes.And that seems to be what takes place too often in our democracies. A move that is bad for the nation, and which will even scare away a small number of voters, will still be done because it pleases a contributor who can deliver, it seems, far more voters through the advertising they will fund.

If there is going to be no accountablity to the voters, then why should the elected officials be making these decisions? What do we gain from it? This sounds like a very undemocratic path, but isn't putting the influence in the hands of the contributors even more undemocratic?

What if, instead, and in seemingly undemocratic fashion, the final authority actually rested with carefully chosen appointed officials. More like judges, except for matters other than those that go before the courts. Unlike judges, people picked for expertise in the area they will cover.

Like judges, let the elected officials appoint them. Unlike judges, let the elected officials also fire them, but have that be their only power. Let them be subject to other review as well, so that courts and the GAO can fire them if they seem to be listening to lobbyists and not the people.

Now this is not a completely new idea. There are a lot of agencies that run like this, at least to some extent, like the FCC, the Federal Reserve, etc. And the FCC often seems to listen too much to lobbyists and sometimes lets the very people they are supposed to regulate control them. PUCs too. I want to understand more of why that is. I know why members of the commerce committee obey their contributors, but why do FCC rulemakers obey phone companies or Hollywood? Is there a way around it? Can we find a way so that somebody will lose their job when something obviously goes wrong, when a rule is passed that any idiot can see is in the interests of a lobby and not the public?


The FCC probably responds to special interest groups because people there want job security and a larger budget, and satisfying special interests will encourage those special interests to influence congress in ways that increase the FCC's budget and stability.
With some agencies (e.g. the patent office) there is also the problem of employees on a career path to work for the special interests group (e.g. get hired as a patent lawyer).
These problems can be partly solved by higher salaries and by eliminating democratic control over the agency (this has been mostly done for the Fed and for judges), although that doesn't do anything about the agency's desire to increase its power (I wouldn't expect an independent FCC to turn more of the spectrum into a commons).
A more ambitious solution is Robin Hanson's idea of Futarchy (http://hanson.gmu.edu/futarchy.pdf), where factual questions are decided by markets (e.g. will turning this part of the spectrum into a commons increase GDP or some measure of equality such as the Gini coefficient 5 years later? will invading Iraq reduce the number of deaths caused by terrorism over the next 5 years?). The role of democracy would be to figure out what measures of wellbeing should be maximized, with congress and/or agencies being instructed to follow whatever rules the markets said would maximize those measures.

In the places where I've voted, the State cabinet officers and various specialized boards on the State or local level are separately elected, rather than appointed by the executive or legislature. Presumably such officers are more responsive than their Federal counterparts, though I suppose it could be hard to measure.

On the Federal level, in every 12 years we get 13 opportunities to vote (two Senators twice each, one Representative six times, the President three times). Does anyone really believe that the universe of policy can be compressed into that?

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